Track injuries better, deal with problem employers: Alberta opposition: Province comes under fire following mistakes in auditor general’s report

Opposition parties are calling on the Alberta government to do a better job of tracking and dealing with employers that fail to meet health and safety standards.

Merwan Saher, the province's acting auditing general, said he overstated the number of unsafe workplaces in his spring report because of the failure of provincial safety officers to update their records.

The auditor general's report

Saher urged the Department of Employment and Immigration to use its powers to enforce compliance with the Occupational Health and Safety Act for employers and workers who persistently fail to comply.

On page 40 of the report, Saher concludes: "The department does not systematically identify and track persistent non-compliance and does not have a clear decision ladder for escalating compliance action from promotion and education to enforcement."

The report stated that 63 unnamed Alberta employers - who employ a total of 31,000 workers - neglected to comply with occupational health and safety orders after one year or more. It also found there were109 open occupational health and safety orders on these 63 firms.

"This happened despite numerous reinspections by the department," said the report. "Our analysis of all 109 open orders shows that this group of employers' average disabling injury rate is three to four times the provincial average."

Government records inaccurate

But the Department of Employment and Immigration has now concluded that its records are inaccurate. The department's review determined that significant numbers of those orders were open because of administrative error. The department further states the OHS officers have failed to update the orders following reinspections that evidence compliance.

The report revealed contraventions with OHS orders were in areas such as lack of hazard assessment systems, absence of personal protective equipment, inadequate certification and training, and inadequate systems to control chemical and biological hazards.

Opposition wants names of unsafe employers released

The statistics released in the report were criticized by opposition parties who also demanded the province release the names of the employers that failed to comply with OHS orders.

Alberta's Employment and Immigration Minister, Thomas Lukaszuk, said he would release a revised list of the names of the employers that might have unsafe workplace practices to the public once he determined no privacy laws would be broken.

However, NDP MLA Rachel Notley said Lukaszuk made an empty promise to improve workplace safety.

"He's done absolutely nothing to stop chronically unsafe employers from flouting the law," said Notley. "He is being outrageously negligent in his responsibility to protect the health and safety of Alberta workers."

In addition, the report found one-half of those employers continue to hold a valid Certificate of Recognition (COR) that helps them win contracts and qualifies them for reduced workers' compensation rates while statistics show their workers are much more likely to get hurt on the job than the provincial average.

Also, in some cases, the government suspended compliance orders even though the employers in question had done little or nothing to address the issues.

"Every day he allows these companies to operate with impunity is another day he's gambling with the lives of Alberta workers," said Notley.

The Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL) demanded the auditor general's recommendations be implemented by cracking down on employers who continuously break OHS laws.

"The problem is that this government can't bring itself to crack down on employers - even if those employers have repeatedly violated the law," said AFL president Gil McGowan. "Voluntary compliance can only take you so far. Sometimes, for the good of all Albertans, the government has to be willing to take out the big stick and punish employers who break the law (otherwise) more working Albertans are going to pay with their lives."

According to official government figures, last year there were 110 workplace-related deaths in Alberta.

Canadian Safety Reporter, Tues Jun 15 2010
Byline: Yaseen Hemeda

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